Friday, May 23, 2014
Today I am grateful for Rosa Parks. I recorded “The Rosa Parks Story”, with Angela Basset in the title role and watched it last night. Wow. What an intricate and powerful job she did portraying this amazing woman of our times.
I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. There were no black people in Sheboygan. None. Now that I live on the east coast, near Philadelphia, it sounds strange for me to even confess that. But we don’t choose where we grow up, nor do we choose the people we grow up around. Our parents do that. Unfortunately my childhood was also laced with ethnic slurs, passed off as, “Oh I don’t mean it that way. . .I’m not a racist. . .but. . .” Except for my mom’s dad. He was proud to be a racist. He lived fifty miles away in Milwaukee and felt he was more enlightened. He DID mean it and he didn’t censor himself at all. I hated it.
Sometime in the early 60’s, I remember going to an event at my uncle’s house after church. There was a lot of discussion about this important black woman who would be there. In my mind, I believe it was Rosa Parks, but I couldn’t say for sure. If it wasn’t her, I hope none of my family tells me differently. I’d like to think I met her. All I remember is many people taking me aside and saying, “You just put your hand out and shake her hand! Her skin feels just the same way as yours does.” Are you cringing? You should be. I am. We all should cringe at that statement. That’s the way it was for me back then and it’s awful! I was not yet a teenager and I distinctly remember thinking, “Why wouldn’t she feel the same as us? She’s just a person isn’t she? I don’t get it.” I see my hand in hers as if it was yesterday.
Many years later, when I was holding my granddaughters hand to cross a street, I looked down at her little black hand in my bigger white one, and got a rush of that moment from so long ago. Oh how far we’ve come. Thank God. Thank Rosa and all of those in the Civil Rights movement who found the courage to make a stand.
You see, kids aren’t born with prejudice. . .they learn it. . .and if you can learn it, you can un-learn it. There is a wonderful song from the musical, South Pacific, titled “You’ve Got to be Taught”. I hope you look up those lyrics.
When Rosa Parks was a little girl, having her foot traced so she could get new shoes because black people were not allowed to try on shoes, did she know the courage she would find? I doubt it. She just wanted shoes. She was a little girl. Look around at your children and grandchildren. We don’t know what they might accomplish, what lofty heights they’ll reach. Many will simply be responsible citizens of this planet and that’s great, but some will reach for the sky and capture it. Some might even change the world. For now, as it should be, they are beautiful, goofy kids, just like Rosa was. Until one day, as a young woman, in 1955, when she’d had enough and simply decided to not relinquish her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
When she was having her feet traced for shoes, and barricading her house from the clan, and holding fast to her seat on the bus, and sitting in jail, did she know what her future would bring? No, of course not. She was a person filled with a rush of righteousness coursing through her veins, but she couldn’t have known. No one could have known.
Did she know that in forty-one years she would be sitting next to the First Lady of the United States of America? Did she know that she would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton? Did she know we would one day have a black president? Nah. She just had enough and she wasn’t going to take anymore. Imagine the determination, the resignation, the full-up-to-here courage it took. Qualities she probably didn’t realize she had until pressed.
So today I am very, very grateful for Rosa Parks. She was instrumental in making the world a better place for me, my children and grandchildren. Her one, simple act of defiance makes me believe all things are possible. Peace included.
Each and every day I find something to be grateful for. My gratitude's are heartfelt, personal, moving and often humorous. Facebook followers have encouraged me to branch out. I hope you will relate.
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